Benjamin Hirte

Form and functionlessness


untitled (A), 2015, verschiedene Materialien, 103  × 150  × 3  cm

untitled (A), 2015, mixed media, 103  × 150  × 3  cm

I already wrote about Benjamin Hirte’s art two years ago. At the time, I tried to locate Hirte’s works (and those of other Viennese artists) in the framework of a text titled Vienna Interiorism (frieze d/e No. 12, Winter 2013/14) in a kind of Heimo Zobernig/Franz West/Wiener Werkstätte continuum – the endurance of local art history tied to a heightened interest in interior decoration and the applied arts. To my mind, works such as untitled (stool) (2010), a stool constructed from two ant chair seats fitted together, seemed to offer definitive proof of this. Even if this wasn’t altogether wrong, it nonetheless falls short when viewing Hirte’s works from today’s perspective – particularly regarding a good deal of what the artist has done since. But perhaps this is normal in hindsight: meanings are attached and slip off again, are tied to objects and then cut loose. But in Hirte’s case, it goes somewhat further.

A large part of his output seems to cultivate a radically reflective approach to the idea of meaning itself, and particularly its withdrawal. One could also say: an exploration into furnishings and the applied arts has shifted from the furniture store to the home improvement centre. Instead of focusing on thematic systems of meaning, or those pieced together in a stylistically coherent manner (regardless of whether they adhere to the index called ‘art’ or ‘design’), Hirte directs his attention to individual, minimal, frequently isolated elements – letters and signs, fragments and building components. Series suggesting a larger whole are only partially completed, and in individual instances. Like in the case of the wall pieces untitled (O), …(I), and …(A), all from 2015: hole-punched, nearly indecipherable units of an alphabet; rubber letters attached to aluminium sheets printed with long rows of numbers and letters; artefacts of an interface file. Or else: simple everyday objects stripped of their original, utilitarian purpose that become, in the form of grossly enlarged aluminium versions of themselves, objects that are abstract, seemingly lost, and comical – for instance, the keychain untitled (circlip) (2015), or the gigantic pop-tab of a soft drink can, which Hirte has planned for his upcoming exhibition at the MMK Zollamt in Frankfurt. Home improvement center, certainly, but seen through the eyes of Claes Oldenburg.

In terms of material, it’s noticeable how often the artist works with standardized products that are frequently cast, or roughly remodelled but not entirely reworked: double-walled aluminium insulation plates with a black rubber filling, for instance, bent into something akin to half-open boxes standing around Emanuel Layr Gallery in Vienna in 2014; evidently stackable, untitled works of art in a solo show that also remained untitled; or the super-simple Strap Band, a metal strap enlarged to gigantic proportions and cut from aluminium, with round holes one would ordinarily drive nails or screws through to affix things to the wall. In 2015, that work became bereft of its function with a strange dent in the middle, ultimately attached to the wall of Picnic Picnic in Sheffield.


untitled (tags), 2014, Spannplatten, Zement, Maße variabel, Installationsansicht Galerie Emanuel Layr

untitled (tags), 2014, cement treated chipboard, various dimensions, installation view, Galerie Emanuel Layr

Strap Band says quite a bit about Hirte’s approach: objects are not so much fenced in and caught in meanings; instead, they function more as a language in their own right – through couplings and connections. At the same time, however, they are analogue, and so they don’t quite obey the digital structure of a randomly recombinable set of abstract elements. Strap Band signifies connectivity, the possibility of attaching something (meaning) to something else (support) – the possibility of bringing things together, and keeping them there. But this happens at the price that the elements themselves depart into a strangely lost and disparate abstraction. The sense of loneliness these objects convey – sad, comical and dull – issues from precisely this ambiguity.

Concrete separation and exaggeration of objects that in themselves express little but hint at flexible and even promiscuous con­nectivity: this game of deception resides in many of Hirte’s works. Take the unbelievably simple objects called untitled (hinge series) (2014) – hinges with aluminium sheets attached, in which a hole has been punched here or there. A functional object without function, albeit with meaning: that’s a hinge. But it’s meant as a link. Or take, as a final example, the works untitled (tags) (2014) ­– plywood sheets covered in a layer of cement that lean against the wall or protrude from it, covered in strange cut outs, small holes and larger ovals, some of which seem to com­- bine to form cartoonish faces. These objects, difficult to decipher and oddly situated between picture and sculpture, are in fact grossly enlarged ‘tags’ – in other words signs, or to be more precise: those little pieces of cardboard affixed to wares. Normally, these tags carry product information, instructions, a list of materials (in short, the ‘work description’ of the product); at the same time, they’re also a kind of display. In Hirte’s enlarged versions, there is neither information nor a product attached. What remains is residue, coded several times over, and use­-less in the end. Which is pretty close to a definition of a work of art.
Translated by Andrea Scrima

Dominikus Müller is a freelance writer based in Berlin.

Issue 22

First published in Issue 22

Dec 2015 - Feb 2016

Most Read

The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018